This colored sketch on grey-washed paper presents a view of the southern façade of the Arch of Constantine and the Colosseum.1 Like many other drawings in J.M.W. Turner’s collection of sketchbooks during his trip to Italy in 1819, this one was likely rapidly done with pencil on site and colored later.2 In Turner’s sketch studies of Roman topography, he was more concerned with recording what he saw rather than preparing for paintings.3 He adopted the perspective of a tourist who was always on the move, documenting ancient monuments, often in fragments, and their modern context in various media. Here the monuments are shown almost in their entirety at a distance, with some portion covered by vegetation or cut off at the margin. They are well incorporated in the cityscape that Turner and his contemporaries have seen. The size of the paper (10 x 5 inch) limits the degree of architectural details, and Turner uses the tonal contrast in watercolor to capture the architectural elements of the arch. To create highlights, Turner has scraped away the wash to reveal the white paper underneath,4 which also adds to the textural expression of the arch. The grey-washed background gives the scene a gloomy atmosphere, freezing a moment in the eyes of a passerby on the Via San Gregorio.
1 Nicola Moorby, ‘The Arch of Constantine and the Colosseum, Rome 1819 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’, catalogue entry, May 2009, in David Blayney Brown (ed.), J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours, Tate Research Publication, December 2012, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/jmw-turner/joseph-mallord-william-turner-the-arch-of-constantine-and-the-colosseum-rome-r1132498, accessed 30 November 2016.
2 Cecilia Powell, Turner in the South: Rome, Naples, Florence (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1987), 37-50.
4 Moorby, ‘The Arch of Constantine and the Colosseum, Rome 1819 by Joseph Mallord William Turner’.